Friday, July 16, 2010

Too much social, not enough media...

OK, I've been thinking about the value of online collaboration lately. For the record, I really, really like #edchat. In fact I am fond of chiming in at a number of Twitter-based online collaborations... #ecosys, #ptchat, #gtchat and more. I appreciate the professional value of these online networks relative to sharing ideas and furthering the improvement of anything to do with teaching and learning... but, there is an issue.

I've been using Twitter to build my cyber-PLN (personal learning network) since late last November, and I'm beginning to notice that occasionally the conversation surrounding teaching and learning becomes imbalanced; too much social and not enough media in social media. Let me explain the context...

'Social' for the purpose of relaying my point of view here will mean, "of the group." 'Media' in kind, will mean, "a means of communication." It's my impression at times when involved in Twitter chats that some people participate more for the social element of it than the media element; primarily to be part of the group. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing inherently damaging about socializing, but when the social environment and the seemingly overwhelming need for some to preserve it, hinders open and honest dialog about the issues being addressed, this means the scales have tipped to create an imbalance between socializing and communicating professionally. I see an increasingly prevalent level of groupthink out there in Twitterland, and it's bothering me a bit. Like Professional Learning Communities (PLC's... we love our acronyms don't we...) my understanding is that the most prominent element of a PLN needs to be learning. If learning isn't happening as the major element of our professional social media interaction, then it's just socializing; again, not inherently bad, but also not productive with regard to becoming a better teacher and learner.

I don't go to professional chats to socialize per se... I go to learn- that's the essence of professional development; the reason I think we all participate via Twitter in the first place- to develop ourselves professionally. Its like those who call going out for a refreshment with coworkers on a Friday after work "team-building"- this is fun for most, and I would even submit that you may get to know your co-workers better as a result, but in the context of team-building, there is no benefit... the function of the team is not strengthened by this activity, hence it's not team-building. If I'm going to involve myself in professional conversation using Twitter (and the group chats that occur there) as my conduit, then I am professionally responsible to do this intellectually and with purpose beyond simply belonging to a group of like-minded people. I love the original version of "Twelve Angry Men"... Henry Fonda's character, Mr. Davis is the only juror in a capital murder case to cast a not-guilty vote for the accused, and he sticks to his guns despite the intense groupthink efforts of the rest of the jury to sway him... a remarkable film broaching human nature in such a visceral way- highly recommended. We all need to be reminded of the Mr. Davis' of the world, and when we're feeling the peer pressure of any group to conform at the expense of our core beliefs just so we can continue to belong in that group, we need to step back and remember our responsibility to be true to ourselves, even if that means disagreeing with the direction the group is pulling us in. We need to think independently first if we are to make a meaningful contribution to any group.

As professionals who use Twitter as a conduit for collaborative idea jamming, we must avoid groupthink. I don't have to agree with you, and you don't have to agree with me... I prefer conversations where agreement is a distant possibility because its dissonance that stretches people's thoughts, not conformity. Through the process of hashing about our theses and antithesis toward that distant possibility called synthesis, we grow ideas; we formulate potential and truly evolve understanding. Many profess to appreciate having their ideas stretched until someone disagrees with them; then their true nature is revealed through defensive lashing out at the contradictory person. We have to get past this tendency to take things personally and strive for a default position that takes an objective point of view toward dissonance; one that posits conceptual growth... the evolution of ideas is impossible without contradiction. Blindly accepting the ideas of any group/cohort/ movement/etc... is a recipe for stagnating ideology... dead-end thinking.

Teachers, lets act objectively and responsibly toward the sharing of ideas and professional collaboration. We can't grow our status as leaders of thought otherwise... we have to be true intellectuals; people who invite contradiction as challenge leading to deeper and fuller understanding... aka knowledge.

Feel free to disagree with me;o)


  1. I believe that you have done a good overview of a problem that is growing and becoming more prevalent in our online conversations - our PLN **chats. The group think we are beginning to see, and how some react when they are disagreed with is interesting, but sad. As a society we have "forgotten" that it is okay to disagree with someone and then have a collegial conversation about the points of disagreement. We may never agree as you say, but we have both had the opportunity to voice our opinions without rancor.

    We don't have have to agree, but I believe that we have an obligation to listen to those who see things from a different perspective and do so politely without using sarcasm or personal attacks to make our point of view the correct one to others. I guess too many have watched media entertainment news sites like Fox, CNN, CNBC, etc., where if you disagree with what is being said you have to disembowel or "disempower" the opponent to show how "right" you are.

    We need more civility in our collegial disagreements, but we also need to be able to disagree with the group think that is out there, otherwise those with differing views will not use the opportunity for the open discussions that these PLNs provide us. We will only continue to hear what those with the "loudest" voices or fastest fingers have to say.

    Personally, I may not like it when I have someone disagree with my pet bias, but hopefully if someone is able to provide sound reasoning for why I am wrong or my perspective is flawed that I will be open to the new information, that I will not use tactics to continue to make my bias sound true.

    Maybe we all need to be more tolerant of those with different view points from our own.

  2. Harold, what can I say except... YUP. You have made a true and good statement about what it takes to be a professional thinker... what I believe all teachers should consider themselves to be.

    Your comment reads a a blog post itself! Perhaps we should do some guest blogging on this back and forth... I daresay the issue is not going away, and I think now is the time to address it as more teachers discover the potential of using social media to advance their professional practise.

    BTW, the new WordPress format looks great.

  3. I don't know if I dare agreeing with you given your post. But I do - to some extent. It's important that we i PLNs and in the communities we are discussing professional matters that we act like professionals, which is to say engage in informed and intellectual debate - agreeing, disagreeing, developing ideas. So what might be missing sometimes is actually not media but sincere collaboration. Taking a stance for scrutiny, trying it out, find its strengths and weaknesses, finding out what it might be useful for and so on.
    Twitter is a superb tool for sharing - it is far less obvious as a collaboration tool.
    Having said this I would like to ad, that the social character of Twitter is part of why it is engaging. I learn a lot through my twitterverse and I'm great full for the sharing which contribute to collaborations outside the twitterverse.

  4. Good point (she said, in agreement;-)

    What do you think about the idea that sociability builds trust and safety, as a precursor to posting different thinking online? For some people, being the nay-sayer is too exposing...unless they feel safe. Thoughts?

  5. Thanks for your comment, Ove. correctly, If I read you correctly, I think I agree with your comment. Twitter to me is a entry point to sharing and collaboration... symbiotic elements in the realm of people getting together for a purpose, whatever that purpose may be. Perhaps there is a need to be social and informed (through grounded media/information) for Twitter, or any other social network outlet to work well, but it's the balance between the two that I feel is necessary for productive things to happen.

    What I see is an overabundance of "social" interaction, to the point where the exchanges begin to look, sound and feel more like a tabloid gossip column, Hollywood news show or a red carpet interview session where everybody loves everybody; the "see me, hear me, love me" thing. Some blogs start to look like "tablogs" and some Twitter streams read like US magazine... I have heard this referred to as "Parisocial" as in Paris Hilton... fine if that's your thing, but it doesn't serve any moral or social (as in for the betterment of society) purpose; that which I believe these outlets are much better suited, and should be leveraged to do.

  6. Pearls for consideration: (from our Design Thinking event last week in Vancouver). In another setting (a wrapup) a group of us who identified with one another's values discovered that we enjoyed the 'discourse' (which would include provocation).

    See a related piece that's been spinning in the tweetcircles lately

  7. Hi Karen, thanks for the comment. I do agree. Sociability can build trust and a sense of safety before getting more involved and committed to fierce conversations. Of course there is also the Machiavellian slant to this whereby this "sociability" comes with a much different purpose, hidden agenda or slightly less innocent context. This is so much easier to do online because we don't get the opportunity to tap our intuitiveness like we do in face to face interactions. THere are people working people online with their overtly "social" nature... I have no doubt about that.

    THe litmus test for me is how balanced one is between the social nature of their interactions, and the degree to which their interactions have substance form a cognitive and intellectual perspective... I ask the question, "what is the purpose of this interaction?", and if I can glean a balance between "social" as in cordial, polite, friendly etc. and a movement toward a purposeful outcome as in where the rubber meets the road, great!

    Myself and the other Nemeticists are brewing all of this in a context of "Nemex" ... "Notice (or not)-Mull (or not)- Engage (or not)" We all have choices about who we engage with and why, and the language of Nemetics we are co-creating allows us to contextualize the procesu can find more on this by following @ebdish and/or @edkare or perhaps by checking out

    Thanks for engaging!

  8. Paula, thanks for the comment and links.
    I love those graphics... evidence to me that the contributors were "with" each other (of course assuming that the interpretations were group efforts.) They are chaotic and random, but there is clear focus in them at the same time.

    I agree with Shirkey's point that the affective domain is inseparable with our involvement in social media, but it's the skill to choose what we are emotional about... hence the Nemetics nod in my previous comment. Our nemitubes are totally entangled forming nemispheres that become the collaborative, (or not so much) environments we choose, or not choose to be involved with... the complex adaptive systems we ultimately function within.
    Fascinating stuff.


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